By IMOGEN SUDBERY
As heads of state meet in Brussels to take critical decisions about EU leadership and strategic agenda for 2019-2024 on World Refugee Day (20 June), they should need no reminder of the pressing need to deliver a more effective response to migration.
Three years on from the peak of arrivals, the inability of European leaders to put in place an effective system is both failing the most vulnerable and threatening the EU’s credibility with its citizens – leaving populist and far right parties to reap the rewards in the European elections.
The next European Commission and Parliament must seize the opportunity to course correct: to demonstrate vision and ambition on resettlement and integration.
The figures released by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) came as no surprise to those of us working with refugees: 2018 was another year of record displacement, with increasing numbers of people spending years in limbo without a foreseeable end to their plight.
At the time of writing an estimated 1.4 million people are in need of resettlement, meaning that they are particularly vulnerable, unable to integrate locally or return home. Behind each of these statistics is a person, a family with hopes and dreams, as well as strengths and assets they bring to our societies.
Populist and anti-migration rhetoric has hampered the EU’s collective ability to put in place sensible and much needed reforms to manage migration more effectively and promote integration inside Europe.
But the numbers of people in need are a stark reminder that this is an issue we cannot simply hope will go away. The EU’s credibility as a foreign policy actor and donor is now at critical risk: it cannot continue to ask refugee hosting countries to receive and protect refugees without making any pledges.
It would undermine the role the EU can play in longer-term peace and stability particularly in North Africa and the Middle East, and risks triggering a race to the bottom.
This year, a new European Parliament and Commission, as well as an upcoming framework in the shape of the Global Compact on Refugees provide an important opportunity for a step change demonstrating the EU’s commitment to promoting a global system for responsibility sharing.
Even in the context of the political deadlock around the Dublin Framework and the reform of the Common European Asylum system, there are two critical areas where the EU can quickly make progress: resettlement and integration.
These must be at the heart of the agenda of both the new commission president and the pro-EU parliamentary coalition.
Now is the time to be bold in our approach and for leaders to take a positive and decisive stance in welcoming refugees.
After three years of negotiations, the EU is close to agreeing on a Union Resettlement Framework which has the potential to increase the quantity and quality of EU resettlement.
The institutions should fast track agreement on this law to ensure it is adopted by the end of the year.
In the meantime, the commission’s previous call upon member states to provide 50,000 resettlement places will expire in October.
As the Resettlement Framework will not be adopted by that time, member states and the commission should urgently convene to discuss an interim scheme to bridge the gap – and demonstrate global leadership by subsequently making an ambitious collective resettlement pledge at the Global Refugee Forum in December.
Evidence gathered by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) demonstrate that European citizens want to see more EU action on integration.
The European parliament elections have shown the urgency of comprehensive solutions in the face of rising populism and the linking of migration issues to national election cycles, yet also as desired by a large number of voters supporting pro-refugee parties.
The commission can provide important guidance to member states and to this end should evaluate and pledge to renew its 2016 Action Plan on the integration of third country nationals, which expired last year.
Make sure EU funding works
Through art, science, film and business – refugees enrich European society culturally, socially and economically.
The EU can in turn encourage member states to admit refugees, ensuring that integration processes are backed by suitable funding.
As the next EU budget is negotiated, the commission directorates in charge of the two most relevant funds – the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and the European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) – need to work together to closely monitor if these mechanisms meet the needs of refugees and asylum-seekers.
With the above measures in place, European leaders can ensure they work towards a Union that truly welcomes refugees and realises the full potential of each individual.
Imogen Sudbery is a director of policy and advocacy and head of the Brussels office at the International Rescue Committee.